If you’re in the middle of a job search and applying for positions online, it may seem like your resume is being tossed out without due consideration. And that very well may be true. According to career transition expert Lynne M. Williams, many resumes are at risk of being junked without ever reaching human eyes thanks to “Applicant Tracking System” software that screens applicants.
Williams, who is the author of the book “Find your Fit: A Practical Guide to Landing a Job You’ll Love,” will speak about how to beat the ATS at a meeting of the Professional Service Group of Mercer County on Friday, December 9, at 9:45 a.m. at the Princeton Public Library. For information, visit www.psgofmercercounty.org. Williams’ book is available at www.greatcareersphl.org/shop.
Williams has plenty of experience with career and personal transitions. She was born in Michigan and later moved to New Jersey, moving once more to Pennsylvania where she finished high school. Her mother was a music teacher and her father was in sales.
She majored in business administration and marketing and French at the University of Delaware, leading her to a career with a tile subsidiary of National Gypsum Company located in Canada. She saw success in that industry, eventually overseeing the sales force of a company in California. During that time, Williams got married and had two daughters, but both the tile business and her marriage proved tumultuous. She left the industry to help her husband build a construction business, but says she divorced her husband due to his alcohol abuse.
Williams moved back to Pennsylvania to start fresh. “I was on food stamps and had a medical access card,” Williams recalls. “I wound up at the bottom of zero.”
She began a new career as a teacher, so that she could match the schedule of her two daughters, and spent the next 12 years in classrooms while earning a master’s degree at Immaculata University and completing all-but-dissertation work for a doctorate. After her daughters were out of the house, she tried to break back into the corporate world, which led to another period of career transition. She joined numerous career support groups, and eventually became the director of the Philadelphia Area Great Careers Group, an organization with about 2,000 members.
Three years ago, she finally landed a full-time job with Berkshire-Hathaway. Today in addition to her job, Williams runs a business helping job seekers with resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and volunteers to help other professionals in career transition by giving talks and teaching free courses around the Delaware Valley.
Williams became an expert in applicant tracking systems after she helped the Business Executive Networking group, which she is a member of, put on a career fair. Using her research into how ATS works, and her own knowledge from some computer classes, Williams determined that simple formatting errors doom many resumes to oblivion because ATS systems can’t read them. She later turned her insights into an article published for Pennsylvania state representative Warren Kampf and the Association of Talent Development.
The article is reprinted below:
Do you feel your online resume submission is being routed into a black hole? There is a good possibility that it is. In fact, research suggests that nearly 75 percent of all resumes are never even seen by human eyes.
The reason behind so many “lost” resumes is most likely a filtering system, known as the applicant tracking system (ATS). Advances in technology have created automated resume screeners that enable the electronic handling of resumes for recruiters. However, what goes in doesn’t necessarily come out.
How the ATS works: Your resume runs through a parser, which assigns meaning to the content. Resumes are not only scanned for key words, but they also are scanned for key phrases. In other words, the technology has the ability to look for words in front of and following the key words. This is known as contextualization.
The content is then mathematically scored for relevance after it is analyzed for terms that are both related and unrelated, as well as the depth of experience that a potential candidate has and how this experience falls into the candidate’s career path. Your score is then validated and moved on to human eyes—or to the proverbial black hole.
How to avoid the black hole: So, what do you need to do to attempt to beat this dreaded applicant tracking system? Optimize your resume! Here are some important tips that you need to consider as you review—and optimize—your resume.
Make sure you customize your resume for each position with applicable skills and experience. Quality of resume versus quantity of submissions is the preferred path. Weave in the language from the job description into your current resume.
Remove all images and graphics from your resume, as they are not readable. Do not include any logos or pictures.
Fonts matter! Do not use a font size less than 11 point and do not use any script fonts. Arial appears to be the best font to use, though others may also be acceptable (Courier, Impact, Lucinda, Tahoma, Trebuchet, Times New Roman, and Verdana).
Don’t hide key words in white text and try to cheat the system. In other words, don’t type the verbiage from the job description and then change the font to white hoping it will get through the ATS. The parsers will most likely catch this, and it will come out the other end in something that is readable. The end result will be a human making their own judgment.
Consider removing irrelevant positions from your resume. Only include past positions that are relevant to the job at hand, rather than submitting your standard resume.
Beware of special characters. Standard bullet points are fine, but do not use arrows, tables or lines that cross the entire page.
Avoid shading, fancy borders, and section breaks.
Check for spelling errors — the ATS may miss key words if they are misspelled.
Make sure your contact information is at the top of the document, but NOT in the header or footer, especially if you are submitting online. Include your name, phone number, and email at a minimum. It’s always good to include your customized LinkedIn URL also. You could also provide your Twitter handle and other links to social media or your online presence if it is professional, rather than personal.
Type the dates of your employment after your employer rather than before.
Send your resume from a Word document or a rich text format rather than a PDF. Uploading a resume is preferred over copying and pasting your resume into text boxes.
Do not upload your resume multiple times as this may hurt, rather than help, your cause. It will not help you get noticed in a good way. However, if you are applying to multiple positions in a company, ensure that your resume is consistent.
Highlight your area(s) of expertise with descriptive verbiage rather than being a generalist (unless this is your title for HR). Companies look for experts. Generic terms might include Marketing, Communications, or Operations while more specific descriptions might be Client Relationship Management, CRM Development, and Risk Management, etc.
Only type typical resume sections such as Qualifications, Professional Experience, Educations, and Skills, for example. Do not add unfamiliar headings like affiliations, memberships, and publications (unless you are an academic). Also ditch the Objective section, as that is not currently being used.
Instead of listing job descriptions under your employer, list bullet pointed quantifiable accomplishments and achievements.
Use industry jargon and buzzwords so the applicant screening tools that index and crawl submissions pick up these key terms and phrases.
Use key word/text analyzers of the job description. Copy and paste the job description into online software programs such as www.wordle.net, www.tagcrowd.com, www.tagul.com, and especially www.jobscan.co. Use the key words to customize your resume to the job.
You should probably consider having two resumes: one that is no more than two pages long and is nicely formatted for sending out via email and snail mail, and another that is totally deconstructed and unformatted for submitting to online jobs.